Moon child

Just slightly more alarming to me than marking my own personal fortieth anniversary of entering the world, is the marking of the fortieth anniversary of the landing on the moon (made all the more poignant – if that’s the right word – by the recent passing of Walter Kronkite). Can it really have been that long ago?

If you haven’t yet, please read Tom Wolfe’s Op Ed in Sunday’s New York Times – “One Giant Leap to Nowhere”; it is by turn tragic, cynical, and hopeful; on balance, very well done. He praises those involved in making the moon landing happen, even as he acknowledges that he thinks the success marked the end of the magic that was the U.S. Space Program.

Having launched just four days before our national lift-off, I have always been tied to the moon; both because of my own innate curiosity about it, and because of the cultural moniker given to all us Summer of ’69 births: moon child.

I think one of the reasons that Wolfe’s piece about the moon landing resonates so deeply with me is there is a parallel to be drawn between my life and NASA. Sounds like a stretch, but bear with me; I, too, like the space agency, am struggling to find what that next goal should be; as I face the prospect, due to financial reasons, of having to return to the home I grew up in, I think of some of the critics who say NASA shouldn’t go back to the moon – “it’s been done.” Even if I manage to find gainful employment that allows me to maintain my current standard of living is that enough? Or is the American public – my adoring fans – expecting something bigger, more unexpected out of me. Relocation, and a new job search in un-explored territory? Connecticut? How about elsewhere in New England? Will only NYC do? Where is my Mars, my Jupiter?

See, moving out to WI in the early nineties and pursuing a graduate degree in the performing arts was my long-shot. It was, to use the phrase, shooting the moon. It was the big risk, the kind you take when you are young and relatively privileged enough, and stubborn enough to pursue something you love regardless of its practicality within a capitalist culture. And I did it – I mean, my first degree was earned thanks to my parents and their hard work and judicious saving (which propelled both me and an older sibling to a Bachelor’s degree), but this one was all me, financed by my TA salary (this was long before UW-Madison found its way to tuition remission for teaching assistants) and the six student loans I took out (and have been paying back, up until this past year, entirely on my own). Despite the odds, with a lot of long, hard work, I achieved my goal; I made it to Tranquility Base; I planted my flag.

Being born in the shadow of the moon landing meant arriving on American soil at the moment when America felt a sense of pride in having followed through on the promise of its idealistic, young President some nine years before. Yes, we had suffered his loss, and the loss of his brother and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. thereafter, and we were starting to wake up to the reality of the morass that was the Vietnam War; we were still licking wounds, but we did not let that deter us from reaching for the stars.

Soon after – after the war, and Watergate, the oil crisis, the hostages in Iran, and AIDS, and the dozen or so things we swept under the rug or tried to forget – along came better technology and bigger cars and we got lulled into a sense of false comfort; we were happy enough to have the Cold War end and our economy (seemingly) grow more robust and our standard of living was to be rivaled, so wasn’t that enough?

We forgot what it meant to reach for things – things that cost money and take effort but whose end goal is the furthering of our story as a species and our understanding of our tiny, tiny place in this vast, unimaginably big universe.

So, too, in some ways I became comfortable with my daily job and very nice two-bedroom apartment over-looking the park, and my economic car, and my summer playing Ultimate Frisbee and the occasional trip east to see family and friends. I still pushed myself – did things outside the mainstream, and reached for changing the world, making it better – but it didn’t seem as urgent somehow. Not until I lost that daily job and then the bottom fell out of the economy.

In his article, Wolfe remembers visiting NASA just a few months after the historic landing and finding a former member of the heat-shield team working – as a tour guide. Says Wolfe:

“A baffling wave of layoffs had begun, and his job was eliminated. It was so bad he was lucky to have gotten this stand-up Spielmeister gig on a tour bus. Neil Armstrong and his two crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, were still on their triumphal world tour … while back home, NASA’s irreplaceable team of highly motivated space scientists … was breaking up, scattering in nobody knows how many hopeless directions.”

How loudly that seems to resonate now. It’s as if all of us, working away in our jobs in whatever our chosen (or not chosen) professions had been through the ’80’s, ’90’s, and early ‘aught’s, were the driving force behind the rise to prosperity of a minority of greedy fellow citizens, and now (while some of them are still on a triumphal world tour no less) we find out that we are dispensable after all.

So, where to from here? How can a nation, entrenched in an unjust (and unnecessary) war, beleaguered with economic collapse from the private sector to the housing market right on up to municipal and state levels, still in many ways reeling from pain it hasn’t dealt with from the recent wounds of terrorism (what’s the statute of limitations on grieving for a sneak attack?), find its way back to pulling together and uniting behind a single, albeit risky, cause?

Can we mark this auspicious anniversary with a sense of pride, but one that is as forward-looking as it is reminiscing? Let us think of extraordinary things – ventures of great importance with lofty goals including the uncharted terrain of justice, fairness, and equality – and let us gather around the drawing board, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

Time

An email earlier tonight informed me that a fellow I practice Aikido with in Madison lost his son in a car accident on Christmas Eve.

The son, all of eighteen, had a car accident up in MN, where I believe he had just started going to school.

I have never had a son; but those who know me will understand that hearing this news was a ghost-like experience for me. Sam, the son of my good friend and supervisor, and to whom I always felt a mentor if not a parent, lost his life in a car accident on a winter night nearly four years ago. He had just turned eighteen.

I am almost stunned into silence. Life, or at least Time, keeps marching forward; in this culture we are not supposed to dwell upon the past – yet if we do not heed it we are doomed to repeat it. I try to find balance, but these days I seem to feel more haunted than forward thinking.

What is our life, really? A succession of inhilations and exhalations; an intertwined internet of biology, nurture, stimuli, response, and cultural preconceptions which we set to the tune of the ticking of a clock.

Midnight approaches out here on the East coast. A flipping of the page, a rolling over of another digit on the celestial odometer. A new year. May we find new ways to create peace, foster creativity, balance our economy, and heal from those old wounds.

American roulette

Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA), in a commentary on CNN today, says:

“Deep down, we all know that a financial rescue is necessary. I voted for the plan that was defeated today because, to paraphrase Rep. Spencer Bachus, I’m unwilling to play Russian roulette with the financial lives of my children and grandchildren. Although the bill was imperfect and wildly unpopular, I believed that those of us in Congress needed to suck it up, vote for it and let the chips fall where they may.”

This is what’s wrong with Congress at the moment, both Democrat and Republican; they say they don’t want to “play Russian roulette” and yet they’re willing to “vote for it and let the chips fall where they may?!”For goodness’ sake, show some leadership; sit down, roll up your sleeves, figure out a viable solution that doesn’t give tax breaks to the very people who have derided taxation and gov’t intervention for the last thirty years. Do your #$^&ing job in other words.

We are in this process of American roulette these days. We are victims of our own greed and lack of participation in the process of the very democracy that runs our lives. This is a real mess, it deserves a real solution, not just throwing money at the problem. 

How do you fix an engine while it’s still running? Do you fix a flat with the car still in motion? No, you pull over to the side of the road, turn off the engine, and go to work. This is what we need to do as a Nation. It means that some people will not reap tremendous profits for a few days, weeks, months. So be it; we always talk about sacrifice for our country in terms of losing one’s life in a war; it’s time to think of lower level (but still honorable) sacrifice to the tune of putting the needs of the Nation above those of ones individual financial or corporate profit.

visitors…

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
 
~ Rumi ~

ether or…

Tonight I embark on an experiment of sorts; I’m participating in a four day enlightenment intensive… sort of a retreat for the “soul” (whatever that means to you)… or, as I am trying to frame it for myself, a vision quest…

I’m both looking forward to it, and slightly trepidatious; this could definitely move stuff (metaphorically speaking) which has kept me somewhat stuck in a rut the last couple of years of my life — that’s why I’m doing it in the first place… and like most life-changing events that brings with it the promise of the new and the fear of losing grip with the things you’ve always identified yourself with for years on end (even if that “thing” is leftover pain from a failed relationship or lost loved one that you can’t change and should have put to rest eons ago…).

Does that make sense?

At any rate, since I’ll be cut off completely for several days, you’ll all just have to wait until next week when I get back and I’ll hopefully have some insights, stories, reflections to share.

Unless I reach complete enlightenment and just vaporize into the ionosphere…
(from ethernet to ether, as it t’were…).

human intention…

Add to the ever growing list of wonderful minds/work that I’ve been exposed to thanks to PBS, architect William McDonough.

He was one of four (I think… math never was my strong suit) designers/architects profiled in the fourth installment of the series Design: e2 looking at construction and the environment. His thinking is really clear, articulate, intelligent and thought-provoking.

A quick search on YouTube turned up a talk of his from the TED conference 2005:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=IoRjz8iTVoo. It’s about 20 min. but worth the viewing…

The “take home” quote: “How do we love all the children of all species for all time?”

Sounds like a species mission statement to me…

{addendum: currently reading Cradle 2 Cradle, a fascinating book. They are also building a community website}